Reading is magical. Reading can take you places you have never been and show you things you have never seen. It is almost as good as being there and reading fanatics know that in many ways, reading is better than watching a movie. It goes deeper.
People who read the Bible can almost see what the Temples looked like. But only almost. The destruction of the Temples happened so long ago and we never experienced it. No one alive today has ever seen them.
But Jewish tradition has us mourning for three weeks and fasting on Tisha B’Av over their destruction. If you weren’t sad about losing the Temple before, after the Tisha B’Av service including reading Lamentations and kinot, sad poems and elegies, after fasting and sitting on the floor, you will be sad, mourning the loss of a Temple you never saw.
But Tisha B’Av leaves the problem unresolved. After all of the intense spiritual work, the Temple is still lying in ruins. Many people are left with the unspoken question of ‘Why do we mourn so much later for a building we don’t really miss?’ Is there something more to mourning than just feeling sad?
In the three weeks leading up to Tisha B’Av we read from the prophets, Jeremiah and Isaiah, who describe the sins that caused the destruction of the Temples. It is painful to read. But they also give messages of hope and beautiful visions of the Third Temple.
As anyone who has lost a loved one can attest, mourning is difficult. In Jewish tradition, the mourner remains inside his home for seven days. The purpose is not to make the mourner suffer or to make him sad. The purpose of mourning is to focus our thoughts.
In the case of losing a loved one, mourning is a time for reflection on how they influenced our lives. In the case of the Temple, mourning helps us focus on what we lost. We reflect on how the Temples were a glorious focus of our love of God. We don’t miss the Temple per se, we miss the relationship with God that it represented.
Mourning the Temple serves an additional purpose; it pulls us closer to God right now! The more we focus on the Temple and on serving God, the closer we feel to Him. And the more we focus on God, the more He focuses on us.
There is no lack of churches and synagogues in the world. There are certainly enough impressive buildings. But there was, and will be, only one Temple. The Temple is unique because of the way we serve God there, and the love of God we fill it with.
The purpose of mourning on Tisha B’Av is not to remember a building that has been gone for 2,000 years. It is to realize that we lack God in our lives, and to understand how much we really need and appreciate Him. It is meant to fill us with a sense of yearning for Him, and motivates us to draw close to Him. And when we draw close to Him, He will, in turn, draw close to us.